It’s every Hokie football fan's mortal enemy: the noon kickoff.
Yet thanks to the football team’s lackluster 2012 season and an uninspiring ACC schedule, the Hokies have faced three noon starts and a 1:30 p.m. kickoff so far, with another scheduled for Saturday against Pittsburgh.
But while it’s easy to take shots at athletic director Jim Weaver and the rest of the athletics department for the unpleasant schedule, the anger about the kickoffs is likely misguided.
There’s no doubt that early start times are unpleasant.
There’s only so much time to tailgate after all, and the midday sun is truly brutal, as the Western Carolina and North Carolina games demonstrated.
While Weaver deserves plenty of hate mail for turning down Thursday night games - a mistake he is already trying to correct by requesting two for 2014 - his hands are tied when it comes to the early kickoffs.
Instead, the start times are tied to the performance of the team and college football’s landscape.
When the ACC signed a lucrative television deal with ESPN and ABC, the schools in the conference lost almost all control over when their games actually start.
The only kickoff Weaver could actually control was Tech’s home opener against Western Carolina, which he slated for 1:30 p.m. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than noon.
It may produce some unfavorable outcomes, but it’s ESPN and ABC that actually control the start times.
The big networks only have three appealing time slots to offer: 3:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. or 8 p.m.
Those are fiercely contested by top tier ACC schools, like Florida State and Clemson this season, as well as major Big 10 and SEC programs.
The only games from the ACC that stand a chance at scoring those premier slots are the Florida State-Clemson game on Oct. 19 and the Miami-Florida State matchup on Nov. 2.
Even last weekend’s Maryland-FSU contest, which was hyped as a major ACC Atlantic clash before it turned into a huge blowout, only warranted a noon kickoff.
For Tech to break into a later time slot against that kind of stiff competition, the Hokies’ don’t have a lot of options left.
The only two remaining home games after the Pittsburgh matchup are against Duke and Maryland, which hardly present the most compelling storylines.
If the Terrapins can recover from the 63-0 beat down they suffered at the hands of the Seminoles, there’s a chance that game could get pushed to 3:30 p.m.
But if Tech should stumble between now and then, or the Terps lose to one of their upcoming opponents – namely the third ranked Tigers - that game will be another relatively uninteresting one.
The Hokies’ matchup against Miami on Nov. 9 will likely decide the Coastal Division, so that game could warrant a late start, but that’ll be played in Florida rather than Blacksburg.
It may be rough on fans, but it’s the cold reality of big time college football.
As it stands now, the networks are giving the conference more than $240 million per year for broadcasting rights, so it’s not like these start times come with no benefit.
If Hokie fans actually want to see some sort of concrete change in this status quo, they should lobby for the team to make the step up to a more respected conference. However, that hardly seems likely any time soon, so noon kickoffs are here to stay.
There are a few glimmers of hope for Tech, however.
Besides the two Thursday night games Weaver requested for next season, the team will likely earn prime treatment for its road game with Ohio State.
With the news that Tech will travel to the Bristol Motor Speedway for a game against Tennessee in 2016, it’s clear that national respect for the program is building.
That contest could attract a record crowd for a college football game, thanks to the arena’s capacity of 160,000 seats, which will only serve to further improve Tech’s national standing.
National perception is what it all comes down to. If people aren’t interested in the Hokies and the ACC as a whole, then desirable kickoff times won’t follow.
Things could be looking up for the conference; if Clemson or Florida State can make a serious bid for a spot in the national title game, then that would go a long way toward getting the ACC noticed.
But if the conference remains a joke, then there just isn’t any incentive for the networks to give its members prime placement.
There will be afternoon and even night games in Blacksburg again at some point, but it will take some serious improvement on the part of the Hokies and the whole ACC to make that a reality.